Political Animal


August 07, 2012 2:50 PM Let the Big Dog Speak

By Ed Kilgore

I have to admit, if not admire, the superficial cleverness of the Romney attack on Obama’s welfare policies. Republicans may have very well set the administration up for this by asking for more state flexibility in administering work requirements with every intention of blasting them if they granted it (as Alec Macgillis suggested in a tweet today). It’s a complex law that’s incredibly easy to demagogue.

Most importantly, it places the Meta-Message of the entire conservative assault on Barack Obama—that he wants to loot good virtuous working folk of their hard-earned tax dollars to pay those people—you know who they are—loaf and steal and make babies and even take out mortgages they have zero attention of paying—on a stronger footing. Up until now Republicans were basically using the old “welfare queen” meme on the working poor, the “lucky duckies” who were receiving refundable EITC credits and would benefit from the Affordable Care Act because they don’t currently qualify for Medicaid. But because they were working (or at least trying to work), they were more sympathetic figures than the old pre-1996 “welfare class.” The purpose of the ad and the highly contrived argument it makes is to bring back the good old days of blatant race-baiting aimed at people who often don’t even vote.

The other meme the ad reinforces is that Obama is stealthily unraveling the “centrist” policies of Bill Clinton, and dragging the Democratic Party back to the bad old days of unreconstructed paleoliberalism. It’s no mistake it features a photo of Clinton signing the 1996 welfare reform law.

But Team Romney is leaving itself a bit vulnerable by going there, because Bill Clinton is very much alive and well and has a somewhat better idea of what he was trying to accomplish in 1996 and throughout his presidency than members of the party who tried to force him out of office and hated him almost as much as they hate Obama.

So if I were advising the president, I’d get the 42d occupant of the White House out there post-haste to rebut the lies and expose their intent. Nobody, but nobody knows the details of welfare policy quite like Bill Clinton (I still have a copy of a PPI policy paper on the subject that he marked up acutely). Nobody remembers quite like him how uninterested most Republicans actually were in encouraging work—as opposed to punishing the poor and saving the federal government and the states money (he described one of the GOP welfare reform bills as “tough on kids, weak on work” before he vetoed it). If nothing else, it would discourage Romney’s campaign from ever again pretending he’s more like Clinton than Clinton’s Democratic successor.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Josef K on August 07, 2012 3:25 PM:

    I have to agree. Get the former President out in front of the cameras and let him remind the public just how small and shallow the GOP has become.

    Better still, it could remind everyone how useless his successor was. I can't think of a single policy or speech that President Bush gave (pre- or post-9/11) that could hold a candle to Clinton. The contrast would be stark and immediate.

  • Bob on August 07, 2012 3:26 PM:

    Also pretty disgusting that Romney ads keep making reference to Hillary, knowing she cannot respond. But as you suggest this seems pretty consistent with the entire Romney approach to the campaign, too clever by half and without much thought to how a step taken today will play out in a week or a month. This is reinforced by the excellent New Republic profile of Stuart Stevens, which gives the impression of a very smart, funny guy who is totally in over his head in competing with the Axelrods of the world.

  • LJL on August 07, 2012 3:35 PM:

    Just as we know precisely the politics of a vociferous Holocaust denier, we know the racial politics of every Republican, like Romney, who rails against welfare cheats and Obama's innate incompetence. It is frightening to think that dumb America might elect a more viciously racist party than the Dixiecrats in November.

  • stefan on August 07, 2012 3:47 PM:

    Dear mister Kilgore,

    (I still have a copy of a PPI policy paper on the subject that he marked up acutely)

    Could we see it? just curious to see such a document.


  • Mimikatz on August 07, 2012 3:52 PM:

    Why don't the Obama people just declare the waivers, at least the ones to GOP Governors, retroactively rescinded?

    Team Romney is really flailing and desperate to have floated Petraeus and then dumped this dishonest ad all in one day.

  • Joe Friday on August 07, 2012 3:55 PM:

    "But Team Romney is leaving itself a bit vulnerable by going there, because Bill Clinton is very much alive and well..."

    It'll be like Willard lobbed one over the net to Roger Federer.

  • JR on August 07, 2012 4:04 PM:

    Hard to believe but the conventions are finally less than a month away. Entertaining as it would be to see 42 unleashed right now, can you just imagine what he's going to be like at the convention? I expect Christie to grab the spotlight in Tampa, but Clinton will make NJ's governor, not to mention everyone else, look like rank amateurs. Can't wait!!!

  • c u n d gulag on August 07, 2012 4:06 PM:

    I have no doubt that Bill Clinton will be able to more than handle Mitt Romney's and the Republicans best (batting practice) fastball, and knock it off the top of the light tower at the ballpark, like Robert Redford in "The Natural," and leave the Republicans sitting there in what looks like a 'rain of pain" amidst the fireworks.

    Clinton's got more political ability and talent in one atom in his body, than Mitt and the rest of the Republicans have in their 'body politic.'

    So, go ahead, Mitt - 'Make The Big Dawg's Day!!!'


  • troglodyte on August 07, 2012 5:03 PM:

    I agree with JR. Save Big Dog for the convention. Dont waste him on moldy policy squabbles in the dog days of August. Who besides obsessives like us will pay enough attention to parse the Romney message right now? Keep it simple. Hammer on Bain, present a vision for the future.

  • rfm on August 07, 2012 5:47 PM:

    Not the "42nd occupant of the White House", George Washington never lived there.

  • navamske on August 07, 2012 6:27 PM:

    "So if I were advising the president, Id get the 42d occupant of the White House out there post-haste to rebut the lies and expose their intent."

    I think that should be "41st" -- George Washington didn't live in the White House. Also, the 22d president and the 24th president were the same guy (Grover Cleveland).

  • JR on August 07, 2012 10:26 PM:

    @9:15 (CDT), MSNBC reporting that the Big Dog barked, while I eat my words. Have no idea what Clinton said but Heileman is calling out Romney's lies. It's about effin' time!

    Said it before, saying it again... The debates could prove fascinating, hopefully seeing Romney forced to defend his lies while standing next to the President. Would only be better if Romney was forced to debate W. J. Clinton.

  • Th on August 08, 2012 11:09 AM:

    I prefer the Obama camp refer all questions about the waivers to the governors who sought and received the waivers. What did they ask for? What did they get other than permission to do what they requested?

  • Robert Waldmann on August 08, 2012 8:40 PM:

    What the hell makes you think that someone is preventing Big Dog from speaking. I mean really what makes you imagine that anyone or anything could keep Bill Clinton from speaking. He has chosen to respond to Romney's lies with a detailed boring written essay. That was his choice. That's the way he is. Ultra smart, thorough, moderate, vain and politically careful.

    I have no doubt that Obama would like Big Dog to say plain and simple that Romney is a liar. I also do not doubt that Big Dog chose not to do so.